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Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

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Wine bar on 2200 Penn opens doors
By Ella Mitchell, Contributing News Editor • June 14, 2024

SMPA launches emergency tuition relief fund in honor of late journalist Cokie Roberts

File Photo by Eric Lee
SMPA Professor and Hatchet Board member Steven Roberts organized the $100,000 fund in memory of his wife, broadcast journalist and author Cokie Roberts.

Journalism professor Steven Roberts said his late wife, broadcast journalist Cokie Roberts, was dedicated to ensuring she “did something good for somebody else, every single day of her life.”

He said Cokie devoted a “big part” of her life to helping others, particularly women in journalism, and he wanted to “emulate” her values and generosity through a contribution to GW. He helped organize the School of Media and Public Affairs Cokie Roberts Tuition Relief Fund, established this month.

“I know with total confidence that she would be highly enthusiastic about this idea because that’s what she did every day,” Roberts, who sits on The Hatchet’s Board of Directors, said.

Roberts said he created the fund because he saw how students were affected by periods of financial stress in the past, like the 2008 financial crisis, and learned that if officials acted quickly, they could “save a lot of students” from needing to leave GW during the ongoing pandemic. He allocated $100,000 toward the fund, which officials said will be distributed to students based on “need and fund availability.”

SMPA spokesperson Jason Shevrin said there is no set number of scholarships that officials plan to award, and there is no “set cap” on how much money students will receive from each scholarship.

A committee of SMPA faculty members will review the scholarship applications and will make a recommendation to the Office of Student Financial Assistance, according to an email sent to SMPA students earlier this month. Shevrin said the committee will consist of one political communications professor and one journalism professor who will meet “in the next few weeks.”

“The committee will form and meet in the next few weeks to make decisions as soon as possible,” he said.

Roberts said after students are recruited to join the SMPA, officials continue to have an obligation to help students be “as successful as possible.”

“We do a pretty good job of recruiting students from diverse backgrounds and minority backgrounds, but we can’t abandon them when they get here,” Roberts said.

Roberts has created similar scholarships and endowments for students in the past, like the student-run food pantry, The Store and the Dorothy and Will Roberts Prize, in honor of his parents, for graduating seniors who have demonstrated “academic achievement, professional promise and community service.” He also donated $30,000 that was earmarked for SMPA students to the GW Cares Student Assistance Fund, launched in the spring when officials first moved classes online.

Roberts said while his donation to The Store was in the form of an endowment, meaning the food pantry only uses 5 percent of the money donated each year, the money put toward the Cokie Roberts tuition fund is “current use money,” and he expects all of it to be spent this semester.

The application for the scholarship opened Sept. 4 and closes Tuesday, according to an email sent to SMPA students. Roberts said the amount of money each student receives from the fund will depend on how many students apply.

He said his goal in providing donations to these various student funds is “supplementing” student scholarships in a way that will not cause students’ financial aid packages to be reconsidered. Roberts said the formulas the federal government uses to determine how much financial aid students receive are “flawed” because financial aid packages never cover all of student expenses.

“I have been trying in all sorts of ways to frankly get around the federal rules,” he said.

Roberts said he is currently “worried about the short term” and has not yet considered extending the availability of this tuition fund beyond the spring semester.

“I figured that I was in a position to act quickly and help people quickly,” he said. “Whether we continue this program once the initial money is spent, I just haven’t gotten to that point yet.”

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